You know you’re struggling. Things aren’t okay, and they haven’t been for a while. You want to feel better, and deep down, you know you need help if you’re going to get through this. Pushing the last bit of resistance aside, you realize it’s time. You need a therapist. You allow yourself a moment of relief, excitement, maybe even pride. You’re finally choosing yourself and your health. You’re taking a huge step forward. You know this. Still, you pause mid-step. You look down, and realize you’re about to step into unchartered territory. The doubts abound. What if I can’t find a therapist? What if I find one and they’re bad and make things worse? Scarier yet, what if they’re good and still can’t help me? What if nobody can?
The fear sets in. Suddenly finding a therapist seems overwhelming. Maybe even impossible. Too many unknowns and the potential for a disastrous outcome seems much too high. You feel your foot shaking. Your leg cramping. You know you need to make a decision. Do you step back into the painful familiar or do you step forward into the uncomfortable unknown?
How about option 3? Just putting your foot down. Yes, that’s right. Exactly where you’re standing. Yes, at the proverbial cliff. It’s okay. Give yourself a moment of pause. Take a breath, and remember why getting help was so important to you in the first place. To stop the hurt. To feel better, because you deserve to feel better. Got it? Great. Now let’s tackle the first problem. Finding a therapist.
Start with the basics — what do you need help with?
People often skip this step, but it’s crucial. Think about it. If you don’t know what the issues are or what you want the outcome to be, then finding the right expert to help you becomes that much more challenging. Now I’m not saying you need to have a post doctoral dissertation diagnosing the enigma that is your struggle. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, if you could answer these 4 questions, you’re golden:
- What am I feeling? (emotionally, physically)
2. How long have I been feeling this way?
3. What struggles have I been facing in my life lately that I feel I need help with?
4. What would I like therapy to do for me? (Think outcomes)
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
(1) I’ve been feeling sad, anxious, irritable and exhausted. I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m always on edge. (2) This started about 3 months ago and has been getting progressively worse. (3) I recently ended a 2 year relationship with my partner. My family expects me to do everything for them. My boss keeps dumping the work my colleagues aren’t doing on me, and it’s too much. (4) I would like to get over the break-up and feel good about myself again. I would like to find a way to get my family to back off. I would like to find a way to make my boss to stop dumping extra work on me before I burn out.
In answering these 4 questions, you create a clearer picture of what’s been going on, what you need help with, and what your therapy goals are. This will make all the difference when looking for a therapist.
On to the logistics
Three things to think about in this step- budget, location, schedule.
Let’s start with budget. Are you planning to use insurance? If so, check your plan to see if there’s a deductible, what the co-pay is, and if they accept out-of-network therapist. Something else to consider is if you’re willing to pay out of pocket? On one hand, paying out of pocket can be more costly. On the other hand, you’ll have a larger selection of therapists to choose from, and most offer a sliding scale.
Next is location. How far are you willing to travel for therapy? You may also want to consider online therapy if your mobility is restricted. Many therapists can provide both in-person and tele-health services, giving you flexibility if ever you feel the need to switch between the two.
For scheduling, think about your availabilities (mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends).
On to the actual search
Now that you’re equipped with the logistics, and you know what type of issues you need help with, you can start the search. There are several ways you can go about this. Most commonly used ways are online directories and behavioural health centers.
Online directories provide you with a fairly comprehensive list of therapists available in your area. You can filter the list based on insurance, location, issues addressed, ect. You can contact the providers on these sites directly, and get a feel for whether they can help you with your concerns. However, combing through the list can be time consuming and feel overwhelming. Providers don’t always return calls, which can be frustrating.
Behavioural health centers can be another option. Here, you’re more likely to easily connect with an intake worker who can answer your questions and book your first appointment fairly quickly. On the other hand, some centers don’t offer a free telephone consultation with the therapist appointed prior to the appointment. That means your first encounter with the therapist will be at your first therapy session. If it’s a good fit, great. If not, then you still will be expected to pay for the therapy service.
A new way of getting connected to a therapist are through online matching services. With these services, based on the information you provide through a confidential questionnaire, you are matched with therapists best suited to help you with your concerns. Some services provide you with several options, others just one. Some connect you directly with the provider, and others leave you with the provider’s contact information. Online matching services remove the complexity that stems from navigating the self-search process. It’s a great option that eliminates the need to search through online directories, and simply matches you with a therapist ready to help you. If using a matching service, never feel obligated to book with the provider if you don’t feel it’s a good fit. In fact let them know, and check if they can work with you to find somebody you feel comfortable with. A good matching service will do their best to accommodate you.
Finally, you don’t have to embark on this “finding a therapist journey” alone. If you have someone you trust, ask them to help you. You’d be surprised how willing people are to support you, if you let them.
We at DownTime partner with people every day, who are alone. We are that person you can trust to get you connected to the support you’re looking for.
So, go ahead. Take that step forward. You’re worth it!
By Angela Di Paola, MSW